Environment Minister Edwin Poots announced that he intended to introduce a bill to devolve planning powers to local councils, on 30 November 2010.
He also launched a consultation on proposals for the future structure of local government.
Mr Poots said the local government proposals would be developed into a draft bill for the Assembly to consider.
On the subject of planning he said: "This is a sea change for councils and councillors. Also, for those who work in the planning system and for the developers, agents and public who use it."
The minister said a number of pilot schemes would be rolled out across all 11 council groups.
Sinn Fein's Cathal Boylan, who chairs the Environment Committee, said the announcement had "huge implications for planning in the north".
The UUP's Roy Beggs questioned whether there was time to get the planning legislation through the committee stage.
This was the largest to bill to come before the Assembly with 240 clauses, he said.
Patsy McGlone of the SDLP wanted reassurance that equality would be at the heart of local government reforms.
Mr Poots said that where the new councils could not agree on power sharing a d'Hondt system would be brought in.
Chris Lyttle of the Alliance Party said some thought the environment committee had been set an impossible task.
The minister said he did not believe anything was impossible even if it meant meetings going on late into the evening.
Mr Poots said that once the local government reform legislation was passed with its code of conduct and ethical standards there was no reason why planning should not be devolved to the existing 26 councils before the 11 council model was introduced.